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The Arab Winter of Rage in Cairo

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Egyptians Torch Muslim Brotherhood Offices to Protest Power Grab

November 24th 2012

Muslim Brotherhood bus burning 10 2012

Demonstrators set alight the offices of the Muslim Brotherhood in cities across Egypt on November 23 following President Mohamed Morsi’s decree granting himself greater powers. Defying enraged protesters, Morsi said to supporters assembled outside the presidential palace in Cairo, “Political stability, social stability and economic stability are what I want and that is what I am working for," adding "I have always been, and still am, and will always be, God willing, with the pulse of the people, what the people want, with clear legitimacy."

In response, opposition protesters chanted “Morsi is ignorant; he will burn down the country.” Police beat Morsi’s opponents with batons on side streets leading from Cairo’s Tahrir Square. Young unemployed men and soccer hooligans joined the affray, pelting security forces with rocks and debris. Mohamed ElBaradei, a Nobel-laurate and former UN diplomat, was among Egyptian political leaders who joined the protests.

Thousands of anti-Morsi demonstrators filled Cairo’s famed Tahrir Square on November 23, after being called to action by leaders of the opposition to go on a “million-man march” in repudiation of the Egyptian president. Oppositions have likened Morsi’s actions to a coup d’etat and have called him the new “pharaoh” of Egypt. Protesters plan to stay at least a week, emulating similar crowds that amassed Tahrir Square in the weeks before the ouster of former President Hosni Mubarak who is now in prison. "All revolutionary political forces have agreed to begin a sit-in starting Friday (November 23)," said a statement by Popular Current, an opposition group led by former presidential candidate Hamdeen Sabbahi. The group is also calling for a mass protest on November 27. So far, 26 political movements and parties have agreed to take part in the sit-in. Tents are going up to shield the protesters from the wintry chill.

Morsi’s decree includes a bar on any court dissolving the constituent assembly, which is drawing up a new constitution. In response, the Supreme Judicial Council called on Morsi to remove from "this decree from everything that violates the judicial authority," the Mena state news agency reported. Morsi’s decree states that any challenges to his decrees, laws and decisions were banned. On November 22, Morsi sacked the prosecutor general and granted solely unto himself the power to name a replacement. Protesters complain that the president has placed himself above the judiciary. The judiciary called Morsi’s move “unprecedented.”

Clashes between Morsi’s supporters and detractors broke out in the northern port city of Alexandria, as well as Port Said and Ismailia. Offices of the Freedom and Justice Party – the political wing of the Muslim Brotherhood – were attacked in several cities – including the second-largest city of Alexandria.

In a statement released Friday, the European Union urged Morsi to respect the democratic process. EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said in a statement, "It is of utmost importance that democratic process be completed in accordance with the commitments undertaken by the Egyptian leadership." In addition, a spokesman for UN Human Rights Commissioner Navi Pillay said the organization was “very concerned about the possible huge ramifications of this declaration on human rights and the rule of law in Egypt". The United States has also expressed concern.  Morsi’s sweeping  decree came a day after he had  won high praise for his brokering of the Israel-Hamas ceasefire, which ended eight days of fierce fighting that killed more than 160 Gazans and six Israelis.

Egypt’s secular opposition to the Islamist government is alarmed over Morsi’s declaration as well as trends noted in the formulation of a new national constitution. Most non-Islamist members of the Constituent Assembly – including representatives of the Coptic Christian Church and the April 6 Youth Movement, which played an influential role in the 2011 ouster of former President Hosni Mubarak – have quit. There had been reports that the Judiciary Council was about to disband the constituent assembly for a second time.

Cutting Edge Correspondent Martin Barillas also edits Speroforum.com

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